Nullification: How to Resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century by Dr. Thomas E Woods, Jr.
Imagine that you hire a contractor to build a fence for you. You agree and sign a contract that you will pay for her to purchase the materials and agree to a design for the fence. You set a start and end date for the work. On the appointed day, you are there to see work begin. The contractor starts to arrange the parts and asks you to hand her a hammer. Being a nice sort of person, you do. As you engage in conversation, she asks for you to hand her more things, hold this, brace that. Then she says, “Right. You go ahead and dig the post holes and set the posts, I’ll be right back.”
Next thing you know, you are setting the posts and you notice the contractor is inside sipping coffee in your kitchen as she watches you through the window. “Make sure those are plumb, she yells through the window, then quickly closes it as she eats a donut.
At some point, you will stop taking orders, walk in the house and order the contractor out. If she balks, you will cite the contract and point out the she is supposed to do the work – she is the employee and you are the boss. At that point, you are Nullifying her orders to you. Why do you have the right to do this? Because you are the person who had hired the contractor!
This distinction is important. If you go to small claims court against the contractor, it is the distinction between Plaintiff and Defendant.
What is often forgotten and intentionally ignored, is that the Federal government is in the position of the bossy contractor and the States are in the position of the person who hired them. The States made and agreement between themselves that an entity would be created which would perform a small number of functions that are common to all of the States and which they thought would be best served in a General way, rather than by the States. Now, 240 years later, we can look back and see that from the very beginning, that creation; that employee of the States, has been usurping powers to itself.
“Nullification” is about the proper reaction of the creators when its creation runs amuck. Starting in 1798, the States began pushing back against the Federal government, via the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, written by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. These were written in reaction to the Alien and Sedition acts and declared that those states would not help in the enforcement of those Unconstitutional acts. As unconstitutional acts, they were considered null and void. A statement from the resolution is a very good summary of it: “That the several states who formed that instrument, being sovereign and independent, have the unquestionable right to judge of its infraction; and that a nullification, by those sovereignties, of all unauthorized acts done under colour of that instrument, is the rightful remedy.” The ‘instrument’ is the General Government, that we generally refer to as the Federal Government.
Jefferson as President would set up an embargo of foreign trade, while State leaders in Connecticut and Massachusetts would condemn them as unconstitutional usurpations and void. References were made to the “Principles of ’98” during debates over the draft and enlistment of minors in 1814, confrontations with the Bank of the United States in 1820 and in 1826 over ‘internal improvements’ measures passed by the General Government. A lengthy protest by Southern States over “Tariff of Abominations” in 1828 led John Calhoun to a major defense of the right of the State to nullify the actions of the General Government, leading to South Carolina’s Nullification of the “Force Bill” as part of a standoff that led to the lowering the Tariff. The next uses of Nullification were by Northern States that were fighting the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act.
Woods offers a solid explanation of the origins, the justifications and the uses of the right of Nullification. His work is based on the history of the Constitution, the Ratifying conventions, statements made by the era’s statesmen and resolutions by the State legislatures. He also includes the text of a number of contemporaneous documents, including the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, writings of John C Calhoun, Judge Abel Upshur and Littleton Walter Tazewell. The final document is the 1859 Joint Resolution of the Legislature of Wisconsin that nullified the US Supreme Court Decision which overturned the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to not enforce the Fugitive Slave act in the case of the abolitionist Sherman Booth in his support for Joshua Glover, a fugitive slave.
It is clear that the original intent in the founding of the General Government was not the subjugation and minimization of the sovereign and independent States, but to act as an employee of those states. Over the past two centuries, those who would have the tail wagging the dog have distorted the truth and hidden the history of this most reasonable arrangement. They have hoped to hide this right from the States that possess it.
Outside of the scope of the book but relevant to it are the many modern movements have attempted to make use of the idea of Nullification. The most successful movements have been the Marijuana legalization movement and Sanctuary Cities. The Tenth Amendment Center is leading the fight to help States enact measures to limit the power of the NSA to operate its warrantless wiretapping and domestic spying programs.
This book is highly recommended.
Here is a little bonus: Dr Wood’s promo video for the book called “Interview With a Zombie.”